It was an everyday lunch and all classmates were sitting together to discuss an assignment. Suddenly I said something which made all the eyeballs roll towards me and one of my classmates remarked, "Jeez, are we in seventies"? I didn't comprehend the reaction very well. All I had asked was whether a woman being discussed was coloured.
Must be a cultural thing, I thought. After all I don't really get English jokes and satires. This was one of those things that I didn't understand, until today when one of my friends said that it's offensive to refer to someone by their skin colour. Honestly, I wasn't in agreement.
In 2006, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, Bernard Jenkin was sacked when he used the word 'Coloured' in a radio interview. It sparked a debate in Britain regarding the use of the word, which is otherwise widely used in the US and other parts of the world. Some said it is highly derogatory and reduces a person to their skin color, while others proposed that it is merely used to identify people and does not entails racism.
As for me, I do not consider addressing people by their skin color to be offensive or racist, unless it is used to devoid them of equal rights. As an Asian, I proudly call myself brown and some may acknowledge that black has become a fashionable word after the appointment of Barack Obama.
Don't we say 'white men' in a discriminatory manner to refer to any imperialistic or colonization aftermath and to vent out our anger? Then why is this hypocrisy?
Some people go so far to ward off racism that after a point it becomes fallacious! I am sure I was looked upon as a racist when I said that and it made me reflect upon my own upbringing as an Indian.
An essentially pluralistic country, India is divided on the grounds of caste, creed, religion, ethnicity, dialect and geography. A country where a northerner dismisses an easterner, a southern discriminates a northerner, coupled with an age-old caste system and gender inequality. All these do not make India very tolerant.
People seldom use the 'N' word, but the 'C' word is widely spoken while referring to people of North-East. These slurs are used in a very casual manner without much care for the offence they cause to the people around. Lack of awareness, insensitivity, persistent prejudice and absence of law enforcement make Indians highly racist.
Grown up in such an environment and berated for saying a cautious line such as that, did annoy me. However, after much contemplation I recognize that it is not the best way to address people and sow the seeds of racism in a long run.
As Indians, we presume ourselves to be forbearing and do not pay heed to our day-to-day attitude where we unconsciously nurture stereotypes. Death of a young boy from Arunachal Pradesh, a few weeks back in a racist attack was what it took to bring the spotlight on a long neglected issue of racism.
As hostile as we are to the LGBT community and people of North-East, we must change our outlook towards fellow citizens for the sake of humanity. As a developing country there is a need to educate and sensitize people towards diversity, so that youths like me understand the gravity of a racial phrase, before we land abroad.